Sunday, October 7, 2007



This is a phenomenon that I find fascinating, that of the 'spiritual' gender issue. Why are there so few men in churches, whether conservative or liberal, Orthodox Christian or New Age groups?

Some have suggested that men enjoy religion only when they can be in control, have ultimate authority and rule over women and children. People point to Moses, King David, the Apostle Paul and Mohammed. Then they point out that males dominate the clergy. This is the usual view of those who set out to condemn ‘patriarchal religion’. But is that essentially and basically true? And if it is, why do so many women flock to these patriarchally dominated organizations?


Male religious leaders didn't primarily set out to create organized religion, but to reform or rebel against the abusive powers of their day. This is important. Men do that - they protect those whom they love, usually women and children, and women and children through the ages have expected men to protect them. This has nothing to do with the modern notions of equality or oppression, but with biological roles assigned by Nature. Abraham, Moses, David, Buddha, Jesus, Paul and Mohammed, Martin Luther, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., etc all started as revolutionaries, defending their people from political and/or religious abuses.

Men are adventurers, whether in the physical, spiritual or psychological realms. They invent and venture out to discover something new, or as James T. Kirk said, "To go where no man has gone before." Their psychological trajectory is outward, external or to use a theological term, 'transcendent.' The masculine symbol is the circle with the arrow pointing outward and upward.

People would organize around these men's revolutionary vision, sometimes against the wishes of the men themselves. Neither Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Paul nor Luther wanted organizations built up around them. They had what they felt was a just cause for their people in the name of their God or Higher Truth. They were involved in exciting and challenging causes. None of them set out to start a club so they could be the leader and dominate weaker people.


I think most men today find church boring, as I do for the most part. Unless there is an adventure or something to challenge them, a risk to take, or a revolution for what they see as a just cause - most men would rather build furniture or watch football. It begins in school - most boys hate sitting in class. That is why boys are typically 'the problem' students. They are surging with adventuresome and inventive energy and then told to sit still. The dictionary defines that as torture.

Few people know that Kindergarten was started in the 1800s as part of the Feminist Movement to make bad little boys more like good little girls. In those days, both the medical profession and many religious scholars appealed to the budding theory of evolution to argue that men had evolved the traits of wild animals in order to survive in the business world and protect during war; while women were virtuous and sweet (you remember the old sugar and spice versus puppy dog tails jingle). They said that men evolved biologically to work and die in war, while women evolved to have babies and make peace. Men evolved logic and focus to hunt and protect – women developed words and feelings to nurture and teach children.

Remember all of the old horror movies - Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, Werewolf, etc.? The themes were males as monsters and women as abused victims or loving saviors. Talk about gender stereotyping! But that is the society we still have around us to a large extent. Men are still vilified as monstrous predators and abusers on Dateline, 20/20, 48 Hours, and women are the innocent victims. I never hear them mention that 98% of the time, it is male detectives and police that are investigating and arresting these monsters.

But as with all stereotypes, there is some truth in the male as aggressive species. Men in general are not made to sit in a pew and listen to a sermon about relationships - you may as well force a woman to sit and watch a boxing match or football game. Men in general are not made to sit on a pad and mediate, or listen to a lecture on the metaphysics of opening the heart Chakra. You may as well ask a woman to frame a house, mine for coal or land on the beach at Normandy. Of course some men and women defy those stereotypes, but not that often.


I think we have too narrowly defined 'spirituality' and made it pretty much a feminine program by the assumed definition. Masculine spirituality, as seen in men like Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Ghandi, focused on a cause, or on some sort of overt revolution, often involving conflict, risking one's life, social persecution and imminent assassination. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, education, etc. were considered secondary to men, always as a means to further and achieve the revolutionary cause. Women on the other hand often find these spiritual actions primary and appealing because they are mostly done in groups and are seen as an end in themselves, fostering communal feelings, social interaction and personal introspection which makes the woman more adept at being in 'relationships.'

Sadly, modern spirituality is most often defined by these secondary activities. Most men have little interest in the spiritual disciplines unless there is a reason for them. If a male has a revolutionary cause which requires him to pray, meditate, fast, tithe or listen to a talk, he will join in enthusiastically. But to do these practices because they are considered 'spiritual' in and of themselves is a waste of time and energy to most men.

That is why the Christian Crusaders were able to enlist countless 'followers of Jesus,' and radical Islamicists so successfully recruit thousands of young men in the name of Allah and Muslim society. As a result of joining the cause, they will pray, fast, memorize sacred scriptures, and give all of their time, money and even their lives for this higher purpose. You see it in the Christian Promise Keepers - a men's movement drawing thousands of Christian men into football stadiums across America to pray, learn and fast; why? Because they are being challenged to a greater mission - to save their families by becoming great husbands and fathers. One of the main reasons the early Christian movement drew so many males into leadership roles was because Rome was persecuting and slaughtering Christians. These men saw a worthy challenge and joined the cause.

There are few great causes in western religion today. The Conservatives come closest, drawing men and women into their Patriotic Christianity that hates the 'enemies' of their God, and those they perceive as destroying the Sacred Society. Most of these conservative guys don't hate the 'enemy' as much as they are attracted to a cause that is bigger than themselves. They could care less about self improvement, new prayer techniques, yoga postures or emotive chants. These exercises pale in comparison to social, national or religious improvement. The self is a small cause compared to social, political or religious reform – or watc hing the Seahawks kick the other team's butt!


Until our religious groups find a cause that is big enough for men to sign up for, we will not see any change in male church attendance. Men will continue to experience their spirituality in other ways - sports, building, inventing, discovering, making money, risking their lives to save women and children (although the media largely focuses exclusively on the small handful of men that take the lives of women and children).

Controversial evangelical Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle says it like this, "The major blind spot of megachurches is that they tend to be very effeminate with aesthetics, music, and preaching perfectly tailored for moms. Manly men are repelled by this, and many of the men who find it appealing are the types to sing prom songs to Jesus and learn about their feelings while sitting in a seafoam green chair drinking herbal tea—the spiritual equivalent of Richard Simmons. A friend of mine calls them "evangellyfish" with no spiritual vertebrae. Statistically, traditional churches are in steep decline, contemporary churches will dominate in the foreseeable future, and emerging churches are just beginning to sort out what the future holds for them.” In my opinion, Pastor Driscoll is correct.

Most importantly, we need a dialogue between men and women - not a recruitment technique where women try to make dunderheaded men 'spiritual' as they define spiritual, or where men stereotype women as a bunch of emotional nitwits running off to prayer meetings. If It is ALL God, then spirituality is bigger than some little corner we call spiritual. I think this area is huge and deserves serious attention.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

I think you are on to something. Having a mission (in terms of a cause rather than a missions committee) is something to join and work on and while the cause is there, the mom oriented churches don't push it.